Dutchman Invents System to Clean Plastic from Ocean, Says It Could Clear 1/2 Ocean Plastic in 5 Years

February 28, 2019 Updated: March 14, 2019

We live in a disposable economy where plastic is the number one culprit of all our waste, and our oceans and rivers have become clogged with it. Can one young Dutch entrepreneur rid our oceans of plastic? He certainly thinks so, and is giving it his best shot.

When Boyan Slat was just 16 and diving in Greece in 2011, he realized the extent of the problem of plastics in the ocean. He actually saw more floating plastic than swimming fish. Slat became aware that this was a problem that no one had found a solution for. He envisioned a way he could help clean up the oceans and, putting his aerospace engineering studies on hold, the project became his sole focus.

The oceans of the world now have five large “rubbish dumps,” where 5.25 trillion pieces of floating plastic have ended up, trapped in huge ocean currents called “gyres,” the largest of which is estimated to be twice the size of Texas.

Every year, 6.4 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into our oceans. The plastic then breaks down into very small pieces, which can be ingested by small fish and marine life, which are then eaten by larger fish and passed up the food chain, eventually ending up on our plates. Health risks to humans from these plastic particles are not fully known. But we can guess it won’t be good.

Working day and night for several years, Slat has made this dream a reality. He devised a system that allows the oceans’ currents to do the hard work of collecting the debris. That means the oceans can assist in the cleanup and save energy, cost, as well as the chances of further pollution from cleanup efforts.

Each system has a 2,000-foot floating U-shaped plastic boom with an underwater skirt that hangs several feet below the surface.

The system is designed to collect all sizes of plastic, from huge ghost fishing nets down to tiny particles. Once the plastics are collected, they will be shipped to various recycling plants.

Slat’s dream needed funds to turn it into a reality, though, and crowdfunding on the internet, with additional funds from generous donors, helped him raise the money to get the project off the ground. Volunteers and researchers reached out to him via the internet, and soon he had a working team of around 80 and a budget of $40 million.

The project was dubbed Ocean Cleanup.

Slat claims the Ocean Cleanup systems will be able to clean up 50 percent of the plastic within five years. Many of these systems will be needed to tackle the massive problem mankind has created for itself.

System 001 set sail from San Francisco on Sept. 8, 2018, headed for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, one of five aquatic gyres across the world’s oceans, which contains about 80,000 metric tons of trash, according to scientists working with Ocean Cleanup.

However, the system is not without its problems, as while the boom was collecting the plastic, for some reason it was found to be leaking out the very plastic it was designed to trap.

At present, System 001, nicknamed Wilson after the volleyball Tom Hanks befriended in the movie “Cast Away,” has been towed to Hawaii for maintenance and modifications to improve the design. The team announced that in the short time it was in operation, Wilson had collected 2 metric tons of rubbish. The undertaking is still in its infancy, but it may hold the key to unlocking a solution.

The problem of plastics in our oceans is getting worse and will not go away on its own. Could this be one key to a brighter, cleaner future for our oceans? Let’s hope so as the world watches and waits.